Effect of vegetation biomass structure on thermal performance of tropical green roof

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The passive cooling effect of green roofs in humid, tropical Hong Kong was investigated with reference to three vegetated plots, grass, groundcover herb, and shrub, with contrasting growth form and biomass structure and a bare control plot. Temperature was monitored at 15-min intervals for a year at seven levels: high (H) at 200 cm, middle (M) at 60 cm, low (L) at 20 cm, surface, soil, rockwool (water storage), and roof-tile surface. The findings indicated the crucial roles played by biomass quantity and structural complexity in passive cooling functions. Temperature variations of vegetated roofs occurred mainly during the day, with lower maximum and minimum than the control, but they did not cool air at night better than the control. Control and grass surfaces were warmed above the ambient temperature, but groundcover and shrub surfaces followed the ambient. Despite complex biomass structure, shrub created the most extreme diurnal air temperature regime. Despite simple biomass structure, grass cooled air more effectively than groundcover and shrub. Four anomalies in the vertical temperature profile were detected. First, the grass roof cooled daytime near-ground air to create a suspended temperature inversion. Second, the stagnant air within the shrub biomass trapped heat to generate a daytime canopy temperature inversion. Third, the elevated branch-foliage biomass of groundcover and shrub brought passive cooling to form a perched thermal discontinuity. Fourth, the air gap of the plastic drainage layer arrested downward heat transmission in all vegetated plots to form a subsurface thermal discontinuity. The findings provide hints on species choice and design of green roofs. Copyright © 2011 The Author(s).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-187
JournalLandscape and Ecological Engineering
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012


Jim, C. Y. (2012). Effect of vegetation biomass structure on thermal performance of tropical green roof. Landscape and Ecological Engineering, 8(2), 173-187. doi: 10.1007/s11355-011-0161-4


  • Passive cooling
  • Vertical temperature profile
  • Suspended temperature inversion
  • Canopy temperature inversion
  • Perched thermal discontinuity
  • Subsurface thermal discontinuity


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